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Welcome to South Park

Across the pond, the second half of the 13th season of the iconoclastic cartoon South Park is well under way. And, thanks to a wide range of (yes, probably illegal) streaming websites, UK audiences have also been able to enjoy new episodes covering subjects from this summer's glut of celebrity deaths to America's obsession with bizarrely theatrical wrestling matches.

There was a time when South Park was written off as the foul-mouthed preserve of puerile adolescents. One need only glance at previews for this week's episode (scheduled to air on Friday), which, it seems, will tackle US hysteria about Japanese whale and dolphin hunting, to realise that these days it represents something quite different. Indeed, South Park's creators, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, have in recent years been responsible for some of the sharpest social, political and cultural commentary ever to make it on to American television screens -- a more brazen, far more offensive, altogether funnier Daily Show, if you will.

In an article in the New Statesman a couple years ago, the critic and academic Eric Griffiths argued that Parker and Stone's collaborative friendship is one "that future historians will surely regard as defining an era". So, it's about time that uninitiated readers were introduced to three particularly outstanding episodes of the show. Feel free to praise any personal favourites in the comment box below.

Smug Alert (Season 10, Episode 2): The father of one of the main characters in the show buys a hybrid car because he wants to be "part of the solution and not part of the problem". Realising that his new car positions him somewhat "ahead of the curve", he moves his entire family to San Francisco, a city buried under a cloud of "smug", because of all the "self-satisfied garbage" its populace emits into the air.

About Last Night (Season 12, Episode 12): Broadcast less than a day after Barack Obama was declared winner of the 2008 presidential election, and featuring crowds of inebriated Democrats ("Everything's gonna change!") and suicidal Republicans, this episode hinges on the idea that both parties' campaigns were, in fact, hijacked by an Ocean's Eleven-style gang of jewel thieves featuring, among others, smooth-talking Barack, computer-hacking Michelle, and Sarah Palin, the beautiful brains behind the operation. Barack ultimately decides, in true Hollywood fashion, to "give this president thing a try".

The Ring (Season 13, Episode 1): Another of the show's protagonists, Kenny, takes his new girlfriend, Tammy, to a Jonas Brothers performance, where the pair are encouraged to start wearing purity rings. These rings are soon exposed as a highly profitable marketing tactic dreamt up by a potty-mouthed and megalomaniacal Mickey Mouse -- a way of selling sex to young girls without undermining Disney's reputation as a bastion of Christian, family-friendly morality.

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The Autumn Statement proved it – we need a real alternative to austerity, now

Theresa May’s Tories have missed their chance to rescue the British economy.

After six wasted years of failed Conservative austerity measures, Philip Hammond had the opportunity last month in the Autumn Statement to change course and put in place the economic policies that would deliver greater prosperity, and make sure it was fairly shared.

Instead, he chose to continue with cuts to public services and in-work benefits while failing to deliver the scale of investment needed to secure future prosperity. The sense of betrayal is palpable.

The headline figures are grim. An analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies shows that real wages will not recover their 2008 levels even after 2020. The Tories are overseeing a lost decade in earnings that is, in the words Paul Johnson, the director of the IFS, “dreadful” and unprecedented in modern British history.

Meanwhile, the Treasury’s own analysis shows the cuts falling hardest on the poorest 30 per cent of the population. The Office for Budget Responsibility has reported that it expects a £122bn worsening in the public finances over the next five years. Of this, less than half – £59bn – is due to the Tories’ shambolic handling of Brexit. Most of the rest is thanks to their mishandling of the domestic economy.

 

Time to invest

The Tories may think that those people who are “just about managing” are an electoral demographic, but for Labour they are our friends, neighbours and the people we represent. People in all walks of life needed something better from this government, but the Autumn Statement was a betrayal of the hopes that they tried to raise beforehand.

Because the Tories cut when they should have invested, we now have a fundamentally weak economy that is unprepared for the challenges of Brexit. Low investment has meant that instead of installing new machinery, or building the new infrastructure that would support productive high-wage jobs, we have an economy that is more and more dependent on low-productivity, low-paid work. Every hour worked in the US, Germany or France produces on average a third more than an hour of work here.

Labour has different priorities. We will deliver the necessary investment in infrastructure and research funding, and back it up with an industrial strategy that can sustain well-paid, secure jobs in the industries of the future such as renewables. We will fight for Britain’s continued tariff-free access to the single market. We will reverse the tax giveaways to the mega-rich and the giant companies, instead using the money to make sure the NHS and our education system are properly funded. In 2020 we will introduce a real living wage, expected to be £10 an hour, to make sure every job pays a wage you can actually live on. And we will rebuild and transform our economy so no one and no community is left behind.

 

May’s missing alternative

This week, the Bank of England governor, Mark Carney, gave an important speech in which he hit the proverbial nail on the head. He was completely right to point out that societies need to redistribute the gains from trade and technology, and to educate and empower their citizens. We are going through a lost decade of earnings growth, as Carney highlights, and the crisis of productivity will not be solved without major government investment, backed up by an industrial strategy that can deliver growth.

Labour in government is committed to tackling the challenges of rising inequality, low wage growth, and driving up Britain’s productivity growth. But it is becoming clearer each day since Theresa May became Prime Minister that she, like her predecessor, has no credible solutions to the challenges our economy faces.

 

Crisis in Italy

The Italian people have decisively rejected the changes to their constitution proposed by Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, with nearly 60 per cent voting No. The Italian economy has not grown for close to two decades. A succession of governments has attempted to introduce free-market policies, including slashing pensions and undermining rights at work, but these have had little impact.

Renzi wanted extra powers to push through more free-market reforms, but he has now resigned after encountering opposition from across the Italian political spectrum. The absence of growth has left Italian banks with €360bn of loans that are not being repaid. Usually, these debts would be written off, but Italian banks lack the reserves to be able to absorb the losses. They need outside assistance to survive.

 

Bail in or bail out

The oldest bank in the world, Monte dei Paschi di Siena, needs €5bn before the end of the year if it is to avoid collapse. Renzi had arranged a financing deal but this is now under threat. Under new EU rules, governments are not allowed to bail out banks, like in the 2008 crisis. This is intended to protect taxpayers. Instead, bank investors are supposed to take a loss through a “bail-in”.

Unusually, however, Italian bank investors are not only big financial institutions such as insurance companies, but ordinary households. One-third of all Italian bank bonds are held by households, so a bail-in would hit them hard. And should Italy’s banks fail, the danger is that investors will pull money out of banks across Europe, causing further failures. British banks have been reducing their investments in Italy, but concerned UK regulators have asked recently for details of their exposure.

John McDonnell is the shadow chancellor


John McDonnell is Labour MP for Hayes and Harlington and has been shadow chancellor since September 2015. 

This article first appeared in the 08 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brexit to Trump